Oregon and Kansas State are putting the final touches on their preparations for what should be a memorable Fiesta Bowl shootout on Thursday night. At the forefront will be the two quarterbacks, Marcus Mariota and Collin Klein.
Both players had remarkable regular seasons. While that was expected from Klein after a breakout junior campaign, Mariota's elite production was more of a surprise.
The redshirt freshman took the reins of an explosive Ducks offense and made sure it didn't miss a beat. He accounted for over 3,200 yards of total offense and 35 touchdowns, including an eye-popping six-touchdown effort against California.
While the argument can be made that Chip Kelly's spread offense is conducive to quarterbacks posting huge numbers, being able to step right in and master it like Mariota did is impressive. It was a major undertaking, and he handled it with plenty of poise.
Klein totaled just 57 yards during his first season with Kansas State, 38 of them as a receiver on six catches, as he threw only one pass. He became slightly more involved as a sophomore before breaking onto the national radar last season.
It's clear the two quarterbacks have reached the Fiesta Bowl in different manners. However, they both understand that their play on Thursday night will have a major impact on the game's outcome.
In terms of overall responsibility, few players in the nation are under more pressure than Klein. He's often been forced to carry the Wildcats offense on his back over the past two seasons, and more often than not, he's been able to get the job done.
Even in the team's only loss, an upset at the hands of Baylor, he put up 325 yards and three touchdowns. The biggest key for him will be avoiding a game-changing interception. He had just two INTs in the first nine games but five over the final three.
Kansas State doesn't have enough margin for error to recover from turnovers. It must make every possession count to keep pace with the Ducks.
That said, don't be surprised if the Fiesta Bowl turns into Mariota's coming-out party. Fans out west know him well, but he hasn't introduced himself on the national level yet. That's going to change on Thursday night.
The Wildcats gave up 52 points and nearly 600 total yards in their loss to Baylor. Oregon has had over a month to study that tape to see where it can expose defensive weakness. The Fiesta Bowl presents Mariota with a golden opportunity to succeed in the bright spotlight.
Klein's Wildcats will keep it close for a while, but look for Mariota to lead a relentless Ducks attack to victory by pulling away in the second half.